The board of Fresh Fire Ministries announced yesterday that Todd Bentley had stepped down as president of the ministry. Bentley, as you probably know was the primary leader at the Lakeland Revival. Several weeks ago, I watched the commissioning service led by Peter Wagner and attended by a number of high profile Charismatic leaders.
As I watched the service online, I just kept thinking that Todd was being set up for a huge fall. The question that kept swirling in my spirit was 'Who is going to pick up the pieces when this train leaves the track?' 3 weeks after the fact, there is a train wreck of enormous proportions. Todd and his wife have separated, he has admitted to an 'unhealthy emotional relationship', and the board has removed him as president of his own ministry. Added to that, tens of thousands of people are angry and disillusioned, the sceptics are crowing that they were right all along and the media smirks at yet another ministry leader who has crashed and burned under some close scrutiny.
I know some things about crashing and burning by both observation and experience. Crashing and burning is no fun and the pain of the crash is only enhanced by high-fiving critics who delight in your demise. The worst part is that innocent people get hurt because of the fall of the leader. Todd's wife and kids got hurt because he messed up. His staff, ministry counterparts who supported him and those who put their neck on the line for him have just been burned by his own personal failure. Add to that all of the people who travelled to Lakeland, sowed into his ministry and gave by TV. They've all just been burned too and I'm willing to guess that they aren't about to trust a church leader any time soon.
For the record, I feel bad for Todd Bentley. It would be easy to blame the people around him for not standing up to him, but I know enough people in Todd's life to know that wasn't the case. I feel bad for Todd Bentley because he fell into a deception about who he was and what the signs and wonders that were happening around him really meant. We have this ridiculous premise within the church that says if people are being saved and healed then God must be endorsing who we are and what we do. It's an intoxicating lie that we so quickly embrace because it meets some deep need for affirmation and approval in our lives. No self-respecting Christian leader would endorse Samson for ANYTHING in our world today. He was immoral, had anger issues and was generally an undisciplined 'wild man'. In spite of that, God used him as a deliverer of His people. In the New Testament, Jesus speaks about the day of Judgement when people will say, didn't we heal the sick and drive out demons in your name and He will say, depart from me, I never knew you. That verse sobers me in a heart beat and reminds me that what God wants from me is my heart.
John Maxwell says that if you fall on your face, it's good to take note of what caused it to happen. In this case, I think that the church needs to take a look at what just happened. The fact is that there were respectable people raising words of caution regarding this revival for some time. These weren't the standard critics who are opposed to everything. These are people who actually believe in healing and miracles but saw the error in Todd's teaching and methods and were courageous enough to stand up and be heard. I don't believe we need to pay attention to every critic that comes along. However, I think we've got to take a look at who is offering the criticism and if they have credibility, we need to take heed to what is being said.
Secondly, and of even greater significance is the whole matter of discernment. We've got to have our heads up and exercise discernment in our lives. It scares me that so many people could be so easily taken in by what was happening in Lakeland. I'm all for God being at work in unusual ways, but Lakeland was WAY OVER THE TOP!! Let's give our collective heads a shake and ask ourselves what's going on here and why am I giving it a second look? The reality is that Todd had an audience because people kept coming to see what was going on. GodTV kept fanning the fire and gullible kept giving and going. The really tragic thing is that 'discernment' is used to blackball people and cut them out of prayer groups and churches while at the same time we are oblivious to massive deception on a continental scale. It's time to tune into what the Spirit is saying to the church and recognize that there really are those who go about as wolves in sheep's clothing.
I hope that Todd sorts his stuff out, submits himself to godly men of the faith who will point him in the right direction. I pray that he humbles himself, gets some education and after an appropriate season, apologizes to the thousands of people who have been hurt. Most of all, I pray that he finds a way to be reconciled and restored to the wife of his youth.